I crashed on a bike today. Really crashed. Head-first over the handlebars, DNA on the pavement crashed.
I borrowed my friend’s fixed-gear to run a quick errand this afternoon. I live in Washington, DC, and my route took me along the Reflecting Pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial. It’s a holiday weekend, so the monuments and sidewalks were more crowded than usual, even though it’s January.
Biking through DC is a special experience. People travel from around the world to see the landmarks that I see on a daily basis. As I whizzed by meandering tourists, I took a moment to appreciate my happy circumstances. The path ahead clear for about a hundred yards, I relaxed my legs, ready to coast in America’s wintry capital city.
Unfortunately for me, fixed-gear bikes aren’t friendly to coasters. Accustomed to a standard road bike, I had forgotten that fixed-gear bikes require constant motion. Locking my legs with my feet still on the pedals was the equivalent of poking a branch through the spokes of the bike.
Immediately the bike seized. The front tire screeched along on the pavement, shaving bits of rubber as it went from 20 to 0 in a blink. The momentum threw me over the front end to the ground.
Hollywood has contributed nothing so accurate as the slow-motion crash. A million thoughts raced through my mind in the millisecond in which I went from upright to crumpled on the ground, and I calmly acknowledged each of them.
Oh, I’m crashing. How badly will this hurt? Am I going to break the bike? Am I going to break my bones? Is everybody watching me? Of course they are. Who’s going to help me up? Will they need to call somebody? Where’s the bike? There’s the pavement…
My left forearm and shoulder absorbed (cushioned) most of the impact of the fall. The helmet did its job — I can’t even recall if my head hit the concrete. I can remember looking to the sky and seeing the bike cascading toward me. Pouncing like Calvin’s sadistic two-wheeler, the bike tackled me completely. Embracing, we skidded another 10 feet, finally finishing our violent act.
It’s funny how we forget about physical pain as we grow older. When I was much younger, accidents of this caliber occurred on a weekly basis. Clumsy and unsure of ourselves, mishaps like mine draw children like magnets. We trip, we fall, we crash. We feel that angry jolt of pain that comes when skin meets gravel. We never get used to it, but we figure out how to avoid it.
In adulthood, we experience new types of pain. Pain that comes from understanding and empathy. Not the type of pain that numbs after a kiss from Mom and a bandage from Dad. You can’t cry it into oblivion. But it’s there, and we try in different ways to eliminate or elude the source.
As I crumpled in a mash of flesh and metal and rubber and plastic on the sidewalk of the Reflecting Pool today, I was thrown back into the memories of my introduction to pain. I didn’t bawl on the ground, waiting for a grown-up to come make things better, but I felt the sting where I lost some skin. I felt the ache where the bruises started to form.
A member of the gasping chorus that watched me fall helped me pull my belongings together. She picked my sunglasses from the ground, settled the bike back on its tires, thanked her god that I was wearing a helmet, and sent me on my way. And I put my wobbly feet back on the pedals and biked back into the cold January air.